Perry on Immigration: Even weaker than you think

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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Rick Perry’s record on immigration isn’t as bad as I thought. It’s worse! … It’s not just that he doesn’t want to build the border fence. Many fence opponents argue (though I disagree) that it’s far more important to take away the “jobs magnet” that lures illegals to try to cross the border in the first place. But Perry hasn’t supported the quickest, best way to take away the jobs magnet, which is to require all private employers to use the “E-Verify” electronic check of Social Security numbers. Perry wouldn’t even require his own state government to use E-Verify, let alone private employers, declaring “E-Verify would not make a hill of beans’ difference when it comes to what’s happening in America today.” ….

And the fence and E-Verify are the easy part of this issue. They are the “stripped down basic package” of enforcement provisions outlined by immigration-control advocate Mark Krikorian. The hard part is getting a candidate–especially a pro-business GOP candidate–to promise, in a binding way, that in the future he or she won’t, under pressure from business and Latino leaders, accept some sort of premature legalization (i.e., amnesty).

That’s tough enough with, say, Mitt Romney: He’s criticized “amnesty” in the past, but you know there will be Romney strategists pushing legalization as the key to capturing the fast-growing Hispanic vote.

With Perry it’s especially difficult, though, because Perry has seemingly already endorsed legalization under the guise of a “guest worker” program (the same trick tried by George W. Bush), Here is the revealing web page:

That’s why I support a guest worker program that takes undocumented workers off the black market and legitimizes their economic contributions without providing them citizenship status.

I would rather know who is crossing our border legally to work instead of not knowing who is crossing our border illegally to work.  A guest worker program that provides foreign workers with an ID removes the incentive for millions of people to illegally enter our country.  It also adds those workers to our tax base, generates revenue for needed social services and it can be done without providing citizenship. [E.A.]

There’s nothing in Perry’s grand statement to suggest he’d apply this remedy only to new immigrants. Quite the contrary–he’s bringing “undocumented” workers “off the black market,” which would seem to mean giving “guest worker” status to the millions of existing “undocumented”–i.e., illegal–immigrants.

Legalization that stops short of citizenship is still legalization, of course. It still sends a signal that if you somehow get across the border–legally or not–you will get to stay and work and raise a family. If that isn’t a huge “incentive for millions of people to illegally enter our country,” I don’t know what is. .. ..

P.S.–In Which We Try to Solve “Meg Whitman’s Dilemma:”There could be a position, I think, that would allow Republican candidates to responsibly control immigration without permanently alienating the Latino bloc–and certainly without permanently alienating non-Latino independent voters who get upset if border-control candidates seem harsh or mean.

The solution isn’t to legalize but stop short of citizenship (Perry’s positioning position) or to impose all sorts of seemingly intimidating requirements that will not be very restrictive in practice and will preserve the reward for illegality (the consensus “comprehensive” approach)–or to make anti-amnesty noises but then flip and support it once in office (the likely Romney approach).

Why isn’t the solution is to simply delay the amnesty until border-enforcement provisions have been shown to work for a number of years, formalizing the understanding that this generation of illegals will be the last generation of illegals? I would suggest a simple formula:

Fence + E-Verify + 8

In other words, Romney (or whomever) could tell voters if we stop the flow now, and the enforcement mechanisms hold for 8 years, then “at the end of my second term” we can consider an amnesty for those who are already here (though not for those who come during that next 8 years). “Enforcement First–Legalization Later.” That hardly seems anti-Latino or mean. It recognizes the downside of amnesty–the way it attracts a continued flow of illegals–but accepts that this downside might be neutralized. Stopping the flow for eight years might even send the opposite message: the game has changed, the border is now controlled. Employers now check. Come here legally or don’t come.

And, in fact, “Fence + E-Verify + 8” (FEET!) is unlikely to lead to an amnesty, at least on its own terms, because the pro-amnesty coalition of Latino pols and Chamber of Commerce types and righteous editorial writers doesn’t want to actually stop the flow, even for 8 years. They will reject the deal.

But maybe I’m selling them short. Why not put them to the test? …

P.P.S.–Option to Wimp Out: I reserve the right to change my mind and decide that any public talk of amnesty, even two terms into the future, is too much public talk of amnesty.

P.P.P.S.: Even if it’s bad policy it might still be effective politics, of course. …

Mickey Kaus